REVIEWER RATING: ★★★★

Based on a 1990 book by William Steig, the Shrek series of movies is one of the top 20 highest-grossing film franchises of all time, grossing over US$3.5 billion (A$5.1 billion). In 2008, a musical based on the first film in the DreamWorks Animation set premiered on Broadway, running for 14 months and picking up eight Tony Award nominations.

Three years later, a reworked version of Shrek The Musical, directed by Jason Moore and Rob Ashford, debuted on London’s West End, playing almost two years and earning four Olivier Award nominations. It’s this iteration of the show that, on Sunday, had its official opening at the Sydney Lyric Theatre. Helmed by Jenny Sawyer, the production will travel to Melbourne in February and Brisbane in May.

With a book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori, Shrek The Musical is a faithful retelling of the story immortalised in the 2001 animated comedy. An ogre, Shrek (Ben Mingay), has his swamp invaded by a cavalcade of fairytale creatures, who’ve been ejected from their homes by Lord Farquaad (Todd McKenney). Farquaad agrees to move the fairytale characters away from the swamp, provided Shrek rescues Princess Fiona (Lucy Durack), who is locked in the tower of a castle guarded by a dragon (Marcia Hines), and brings her back to him. Together with a talking donkey (Nat Jobe), Shrek sets out on that mission.

Shrek is a family story cautioning against judgment by appearance and promoting the celebration of individuality and the value of genuine friendship, and its Australian professional premiere comes in the form of a wonderfully polished production that features an eminently talented cast. Sawyer delivers something that’s not just visually satisfying or or aurally appealing, but a show that is sincere, heartening and tremendously energetic.

Mingay is well cast in the title role; his Shrek is vocally commanding and sardonic, with a convincing Scottish accent. As his sassy offsider, Donkey, Jobe is hugely genial and charming and, fortunately, there is a good chemistry between him and Mingay.

Durack flexes her impressive comedic chops as the plucky and strong-willed Princess Fiona. She leads dancers in the early Act 2 tap number ‘Morning person’, a sequence that is a production highlight. As the short-statured hopeful king, McKenny is excellent. He has the unenviable task of walking the stage on his knees for the entire show, but it never impedes his portraying a character who’s both villainous and ridiculous. Completing the lead cast as Dragon is Hines, whose powerful and soulful vocals make Act 1’s ‘Forever’ a treat and are a welcome addition to the curtain call number.

There’s also a superb supporting cast, serving up a slew of recognisable fairytale characters and Lord Farquaad’s knights. Manon Gunderson-Briggs’s Gingy (the gingerbread man), Caleb Vines’s Pinocchio, Suzanne Steele’s Witch and Monique Sallé’s Red Riding Hood all make their mark, but there’s no weak link anywhere.

While none of the songs linger in the brain for too long, the show’s 19-track score is tuneful and contains nods to several other musicals, including Wicked, The Lion King, and Les Misérables. Musical Director Dave Skelton leads a 12-piece orchestra in a terrifically tight and full sounding reproduction of Tesori’s music.

And, as expected, Shrek is a visual delight. Tim Hatley’s sets and Duncan McLean’s projections ensure the stage looks like a fairytale right throughout, whether in the woods or Farquaad’s Kingdom of Duloc, while Hugh Vanstone’s lighting also adds vitality. Among the many costumes (there are more than 260 in the show), there are some spectacular pieces, including the army of red and blue Duloc dancers, and the displaced band of fairytale characters, all of whom don remarkably detailed attire. Naomi Donne’s makeup design is also noteworthy.

Shrek The Musical truly is a fun night out for the entire family. Kids will relish how well the cast breathes life into these much-loved characters and their animated world, and the adults in the room may be pleasantly surprised to find it’s not just the youngest crowd members who leave the theatre with a smile.

Photo credit: Brian Geach

SYDNEY SEASON DETAILS

Venue: Sydney Lyric Theatre, The Star
Season: Playing now until 9 February 2020
Performance times: Wed – Sat 7:30pm, matinees Wed & Thurs 1pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 1pm and 6pm
Prices: From $49.90 (transaction fees apply)
Bookings: ticketmaster.com.au or 1300 795 267

MELBOURNE SEASON DETAILS

Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre
Season: From 16 February 2020
Performance times: Wed – Sat 7:30pm, matinees Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 1pm and 6pm
Prices: From $49.90 (transaction fees apply)
Bookings: ticketek.com.au or 132 849
Groups 12+ call 1300 364 001

BRISBANE SEASON DETAILS

Venue: Lyric Theatre, QPAC
Season: From 9 May 2020
Performance times: Wed – Sat 7:30pm, matinees Wed 1pm, Sat 2pm, Sun 1pm and 6pm
Prices: From $49.90 (transaction fees apply)
Bookings: qpac.com.au or 136 246
Groups 12+ call (07) 3840 7466

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